Hey, Lions fans, it’s 85 degrees under cloudy skies and the track is fast. This was the most intense training camp session that I have ever seen, so let’s get to it.
Prior to Warm-Ups
Usually, a camp session gets off to a leisurely pace as the players slowly saunter onto the field. Today would be different.
When I settled into my perch, it was a half hour before the scheduled start of practice. Out on the field, three UDFAs were being drilled by an assistant coach. Wide receivers Demario Ballard (W. Oregon), Dominique Barnes (Washington St.) and Marcus Harris (Murry St.) were doing some agility drills while catching passes thrown by the coach.
QB Zac Robinson joined them and tried to hastily loosen up his arm. When Robinson was ready, he threw to the three receivers, who ran every route in the playbook that the coach called out.
This might have been a test of their play recognition. If it was, they all passed with flying colors.
This ad hoc drill lasted 25 minutes. This would be the longest segment of the day, and it was off the books.
Individual Position Drills
After warm-ups, the offensive and defensive linemen adjourned to their not-so-neutral corners for some sled work. The linebackers surrounded assistant coach Chris Kocurek for a short lecture. Likewise, the defensive backs were gathered around assistant coach Tim Walton. After five minutes, both units began work in earnest. Coverage techniques were the order of the day.
The long snappers were working on shotgun snaps with the QBs. Ordinarily, I would not have given this much notice except that RG Rob Sims was snapping the ball! WTF?
The running backs did their agility drills, and the receivers worked on hand-eye coordination drills.
One-on-One: Jamming Receivers and Receivers Busting the Jam
Next, the Lions did something that I’ve never seen them do in camp. Receivers and DBs worked against each other one-on-one at the near sideline, about 15 yards from where I was seated.
The coaching staff set up the 5-yard legal contact zone using pylons. The defenders were expected to disrupt the receivers by jamming them at the line of scrimmage. The receivers were expected to bust the jam.
It was a high intensity drill, with the players not participating exhorting their unit mates. The crowd went nuts! Fights broke out. The most noticeable one was between WR Derrick Williams and CB Aaron Berry. These two gave no quarter!
A penalty flag could have been thrown on almost every rep. Ugly.
The drill was momentarily halted for some coaching points—with a twist.
Here’s what really got my attention: Tim Walton, the DB coach, delivered coaching points to the receivers! He showed them that staying low when coming off the snap would prevent the DB from engaging the receiver’s core, where it's easiest to disrupt a receiver with a hand check.
Likewise, Shawn Jefferson (receivers coach) coached the DBs in the most effective techniques for disrupting receivers by redirecting them on contact, using strikes to the shoulders.
It was a brilliant piece of cross coaching that had an immediate effect on every player. Jefferson and Walton used WR Calvin Johnson and S Louis Delmas to illustrate proper techniques.
The performance by both units thereafter was noticeably elevated.
Seven-on-Seven Melee on Steroids
In the meantime, the offensive and defensive lines were joined by the linebackers, tight ends and running backs for some full contact in run offense and defending the run.
As was the case with the receivers and defensive backs, the various units were cross-coached. Head coach Jim Schwartz was in the middle of things, pointing and barking.
This was the most violent drill to date. The fights that broke out were too numerous to mention. A red-faced George Yarno (offensive line coach) screaming at defensive linemen, while Schwartz, Kocurek and LB coach Matt Burke harangued the offensive players.
It was high intensity. It was very emotional. It was brilliantly coached.
Red Zone Man-on-Man Passing and Pass Coverage
The QBs rotated through this drill while the receivers and DBs alternated snaps. The offense had the better of these matchups, but Aaron Berry really stood out by jumping some routes.
Nate Burleson’s routes were mid-season crisp.
11-on-11 Full Contact (Well, Kinda)
The offense got after the defense, and visa versa. The defense threw some blitz packages at Stafford and company, but the offense looked crisp. Best and LeShoure looked very good.
The D-line was LoJack, Suh, Williams and KVB. They rotated with Willie Young, Robert Callaway, Sammie Lee Hill and Narada Williams.
The linebackers were Isaiah Ekejiuba, DeAndre Levy and Doug Hogue, followed by Quinton Davie, Dejuan Fulghum and Zack Follett.
Getting first-team snaps were CBs Aaron Berry and Nathan Vasher, followed by Stephen Brandon and Brandon Bufford. The safety pairings were Delmas and Spievey, followed by Erik Coleman and Ricardo Silva.
The team worked several down-and-distance scenarios, excluding red zone and short yardage.
Stafford, under pressure, hit Megatron in stride with double coverage, drafting him down the field. Stafford threw the perfect ball and it was lights out, baby!
Tony Scheffler and Derrick Williams made fine catches as well.
The Truth About WR Demario Ballard
Coming out of Western Oregon, Ballard was listed at 6’7” and 255 pounds. The Lions roster shows him at 6’2”, 220 pounds.
Both are incorrect.
Ballard is actually 6’5” and 230 pounds. He has the same body as Calvin Johnson, with the exception of his shoulders and upper arms. They could be twins. Same torso. Same wing span.
Ballard has excelled in every drill and takes coaching well. In an offense, your eyes are drawn to Ballard, just like they are when watching you know who.
Ballard the player is fun to watch. He’s got nice speed, runs crisp routes and has soft hands. He catches the ball away from his body (this was a knock on him) and you can barely hear the ball hit his hands.
Ballard makes great adjustments on the ball, but I haven’t seen him leap yet. He's a long strider who looks effortless. Just like you know who.
Ballard the UDFA is now my “pet cat” and is the current front-runner for the Randy Phillips UDFA Camp Stud Award.
I’m going to predict that you will see Ballard play in the NFL in 2011. I hope it’s in Detroit.
Yesterday, I said that this team looked to be very far behind the team that I saw in camp last year, and that there needed to be a greater sense of urgency moving forward.
Today’s practice was extremely well planned and executed. The speed of the practice segments, the cross-coaching of players and the speed with which the team operated in every phase of practice has alleviated any concerns that I entertained.
Speaking of coaching, head coach Jim Schwartz usually can be found standing in the middle of the practice field with GM Martin Mayhew and President Tom Lewand in close attendance. He even seems somewhat detached.
Schwartz must have banned his baggage from the field because Mayhew and Lewand were nowhere in sight.
In this practice, Schwartz was everywhere. He was coaching like he was an assistant again. He was active and vocal. He pointed fingers.
The cross-coaching aspect of this practice was a master stroke of genius that had an immediate impact on every player on the field.
The sense of urgency has returned, folks.
Mike Sudds is a syndicated Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Mike is also an analyst and correspondent for DraftTek.com.